Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs: Boozy Lunches and Blinkers
Well Tuesday went well. After running late for most of Monday, on Tuesday I ended up running early, at one point up to 50 minutes ahead of schedule. You might think this a sign of bad planning, but it was just the luck of the draw. I simply couldn’t get some appointments at the times I wanted, giving me a rather ‘spaced out’ schedule, but rather than hang around waiting for my allotted times I just turned up early. A little bit inconvenient, but I hoped my interest would be looked upon kindly. It was, and so I kept the day running nicely; indeed, I managed to fit in two tastings that weren’t even on my timetable for the day.
It was 8am at Château Calon-Ségur for the first tasting, and as on previous days it was cold, miserable and disappointing (the weather, not the wine). I tasted with Vincent Millet, who is pleased with the results of the 2014 vintage. Then I quickly swung by Château Pédesclaux to see the results of recent building work here, the château (below) now flanked by two steel and glass cubes. It certainly looks interesting. As for the wine, I will taste that later today (Wednesday) with Emmanuel Cruse who has a big role here and at the other Lorenzetti estate, Lilian-Ladouys. Then it was on to Château Pontet-Canet, before hopping next-door to Château Mouton-Rothschild, then another hop up the road to Château Lafite-Rothschild. Next was Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, followed by Château Latour. That took me up to lunchtime, and so I headed up to Château Sociando-Mallet to taste, and then I sat down for lunch, an informal affair of cold charcuterie followed by boeuf en daube and cheese. There was a bottle of the 2006 Sociando-Mallet to wash it all down with, if required. I took a couple of mouthfuls to taste, but no more than that, as it is a long day, and I am of course driving for much of it. This was my most luxurious lunch of the week, by the way, as usually I just grab a sandwich in the car between appointments.
This is, it has to be said, a great contrast to the experience some enjoy during the primeurs week. It can be a bit of a party, with long boozy lunches with plenty of old vintages served, and lazy dinners too. This is fine for the wine trade; if you’re in the trade you definitely should be dining with the Bordelais in this fashion, building a good working relationship, getting to know one another, because the merchants and the châteaux depend on one another to survive (although you might not think it – suffice to say it can perhaps be a little tense at time, the obvious problem in recent years being the prices). For wine critics, or writers, or bloggers, or whatever you want to call them, it seems to me to be a rather incongruous activity though. Picture the supposedly independent assessor of the latest vintage, sitting at table, grinning into the camera, glass in raised hand, enjoying the 2000 from Château Wonderful with carpaccio of coelacanth and pan-fried ortolan. As the photographs are plastered over Twitter or Facebook they might just be followed up with something like “I love the 2014 vintage”, which is of course a completely independent assessment based on long and considered though, the taster working entirely free of undue influence, despite having just had a fine gustatory experience, and having just glugged the 2005 and 1990, also from Château Wonderful. It might be all good fun, but this critic/blogger is now part of the marketing machine, and when the release prices stay high despite everything it wil be partly this critic’s fault. When the punters who bought the wines pull the corks ten years down the road, and find that actually they’re a bit lean, and maybe 2014 was a bit over-hyped after the dreary 2013 vintage, and perhaps the wines are not really all they were cracked up to be, it will also be partly that critic’s fault. Don’t believe the boozy, blinkered hype.
I digress (not for the first time). After Sociando-Mallet I headed down to Château Montrose, followed by Château Cos d’Estournel, then down to the UGC tasting for Pauillac and, although not orignally scheduled, I also squeezed in the UGC St Julien tasting. The former was at Château Lynch-Moussas, which is west of Pauillac in soils of a very sandy, gritty nature, and with all the recent rain it was a bit of a mudbath outside. My hire car is now more brown than black. The latter tasting was at Château Léoville-Poyferré. Then, as the wine wasn’t being shown at the UGC tasting (did they pull out last year? – I must remember this for future reference) I paid an unscheduled visit to Château Pichon-Lalande, where I was warmly welcomed despite turning up sans rendez-vous, and then I finished up across the road at Château Pichon-Baron, where I was certainly the last taster standing. By the time I finished, Christian Seely and Jean-René Matignon looked ready for their coats. It’s a tiring week for all, tasters, pourers and talkers.
Tomorrow, a lie-in, as my first appointment isn’t until 9am, at Château Margaux. More Margaux and St Julien thereafter, filling in a couple of Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes gaps, and then I head for the right bank before the final two days of tasting.